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Uganda must integrate oil and climate change policy

David Ebong

Oil exploitation can bring immense negative impacts on the environment. These would have a significant influence on Uganda’s development pathway because environmental sustainability is intricately linked with growth. The government has focused on oil at the expense of environment and climate change despite the Government of Uganda being a signatory to the climate change convention and Kyoto Protocol.

A low emission development pathway is the optimal option for Uganda and could help us to become a regional leader.  Brazil, whose economy outpaced the UK in December 2011, is a good example of balancing green and fossil driven economies. The clean energy, petroleum, environment, and climate change sectors are strong entry points for Uganda to participate in emission reduction and tap into the carbon market where Sub-Saharan Africa is accessing only two percent of the global share of Clean Development Mechanism funding. To properly manage these complex issues, they need to be unlocked at the highest level of decision making in the country.

From a bird’s eye view, a weak implementation framework has held Ugandans hostage to poverty amidst a forest of options for sustainable development. There is a need to move beyond policy reforms and to focus on auditing implementation compliance.

Experience from parliamentarians’ work in the region has shown that oversight mechanisms remain the weakest point of parliaments in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the oil law slowly evolves in Uganda, parliamentarians must strengthen policy auditing by focusing not only on financial factors, but also on auditing policy compliance. Benchmarks are needed for institutional linkages that will enable government at all levels to deliver in an integrated manner.

Uganda has excelled on policy reforms but, as result of dysfunctional or non-functional public institutions at all levels, has performed poorly on delivery of quality services. There is a perception of increasing corruption at all levels. Despite a strong anti-corruption legal framework, Uganda has struggled to translate its anti-corruption laws into practice. This is tarnishing Uganda’s image as well as public confidence in government’s ability to undertake reforms for a development model that can succeed in the oil and climate change challenges.  The governance gap, and the unequal relationship between government and citizens, must be addressed.

The oil discovery brings both development opportunities and challenges. Global experience demonstrates that natural resource wealth in the context of poverty and weak institutions increases the probability of corruption, patronage, instability, and conflict. Whether Uganda’s oil is a blessing or curse depends largely on the establishment of an institutional framework that ensures fair and equitable distribution of resources and appropriate consideration of economic, social, and environmental issues.

A green economy remains a viable option for Uganda but it will require getting it right from the word go.  Uganda has shelved the implementation of its Renewable Energy Policy 2007 that requires all petroleum products to be blended by 20% of plant oil. This was meant to guarantee farmers’ participation in the oil sector, providing access to the market that they lack. It was seen both as a commitment to a low carbon development strategy and as empowering agro-based local communities.

Further study is needed to identify the impacts of climate change and oil in Uganda and support policy measures designed to mitigate these effects. Among the measures is an emission trading scheme which will shift demand towards lower-emissions sources, and towards clean technologies that capture and sequester emissions, and towards lower-emissions forms of transport. This is a balanced pathway for Uganda with multiple benefits-sharing in favour of local empowerment and averts the oil curse in the country.

Climate change cannot be forgotten. Uganda’s response has remained slow and frustrating in terms of integrating the national and local government processes vis-à-vis the role of NGOs and the private sector through a multi-stakeholder approach. As the oil debate progresses, the focus should be on strengthening all environmental management using oil as an example rather than as a standalone case.

David Ebong was the MP representing the constituency of Maruzi  (Apac District) in Uganda’s 8th parliament (2006-2011) and the founding Chairperson of the Parliamentary Forum on Climate Change. He has also served as chair of the African Parliamentarians’ Task Force on Climate Change.  He is now working in the private sector to develop renewable energy projects.